Concluding observations of the Committee against Torture : Guatemala. 05/27/1998.
A/53/44,paras.157-166. (Concluding Observations/Comments)

Convention Abbreviation: CAT
COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE
Twentieth session
4 - 22 May 1998



Concluding observations of the Committee against Torture

Guatemala


157. The Committee considered the second periodic report of Guatemala (CAT/C/29/Add.3) at its 324th and 325th meetings, on 7 May 1998 (CAT/C/SR.324 and 325), and adopted the following conclusions and recommendations.


1. Introduction

158. Guatemala acceded to the Convention on 5 January 1990. It has not submitted the declarations provided for under articles 21 and 22 of the Convention.

159. Guatemala is also a State party to the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture.

160. The report was submitted on 17 February 1997 and covers the period between 31 July 1995, when the first report was submitted, and 30 August 1996. During the Committee’s consideration of the report, the Guatemalan delegation gave updated information in its oral presentation and submitted an addendum containing information covering the period between 1 January 1997 and 31 March 1998.

161. The Committee’s work was complicated by the fact that the report does not adhere to the general guidelines adopted by the Committee on the form and content of periodic reports, which stipulated that reports should follow the order of the articles of the Convention (arts. 1 to 16).


2. Positive aspects

162. The Committee is pleased to note the following positive aspects:

(a) The Agreement on a Firm and Lasting Peace, signed on 29 December 1996, which ended the prolonged armed conflict;

(b) The elimination of all State-promoted policies that violate human rights;

(c) The stated wish of the State authorities to promote a thorough reform of the administration of justice and of public security, with a view to rectifying the shortcomings of the Judiciary, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the National Police;

(d) The demobilization of the Voluntary Civil Defence Committees, whose members were reported in the past to have committed the most serious violations of human rights;

(e) The restriction of military jurisdiction to essentially military crimes and misdemeanours and the consequent transfer to ordinary courts of all proceedings against members of the armed forces for ordinary crimes and similar acts;

(f) The demilitarization of the police forces and the start made on restructuring them into a single National Civil Police with the disbandment of the Mobile Military Police and the professionalization of the police function through the establishment of the Police Academy where anybody wishing to join the force, obtain promotion or specialize must undergo training. The Committee notes with satisfaction that the training of members of the police will henceforth include, as a priority subject, the study of human rights and the analysis of the principal international instruments in this sphere, in accordance with the provisions of article 10 of the Convention;

(g) The implementation of intensive training programmes in substantive criminal law for serving judges and the strengthening of the College of Legal Studies to ensure that posts are filled by the best-qualified judges, through a selection process based on objective technical criteria;

(h) The process of purging the National Police and the Financial Police through the dismissal of members suspected of involvement in human rights violations;

(i) The raising of the minimum age for bearing firearms to 25 years;

(j) The numerical reduction in the strength of the armed forces.


3. Factors and difficulties impeding the application of the
provisions of the Convention


163. The application of the Convention is being hindered by:

(a) Continued grave qualitative and quantitative weaknesses in the Judiciary, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Police, which are the State institutions responsible for ensuring the safety of persons and laying the foundations for the functioning of a State which will respect and guarantee human rights;

(b) The repeated instances of intimidation of judges, prosecutors, witnesses, victims and their relations, human rights activists and journalists, which largely account for the absence of decisive action by the bodies that should investigate and try crimes and for the continuance of impunity. Article 13 of the Convention makes States responsible for the protection of victims and witnesses;

(c) The delay in putting into operation the Service for the Protection of Persons involved in Proceedings and Persons connected with the Administration of Justice;

(d) The inadequacy of the funds allocated by the State to the Human Rights Procurator, which limits his activities in the investigation of alleged human rights violations by State agents, and in the promotion of a culture of tolerance and respect for these rights, at a time in the country’s history when particular importance should be attached to those functions;


(e) The spread in Guatemalan society of a deep- rooted culture of violence, which it has not proved possible to reverse.


4. Subjects of concern

164. The Committee is concerned about the following:

(a) The persistence of impunity for crimes, particularly grave human rights violations;

(b) The fact that, although the number of reports of torture has declined, there are still problems resulting from incompetence in the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Judiciary and the Police, which are the State bodies responsible for investigating such reports, identifying and arresting the perpetrators and bringing them to trial;

(c) The increase in the number of reports of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by State agents;

(d) The proliferation of the unlawful possession of weapons by private individuals, which is largely responsible for the high levels of criminal violence that seriously jeopardizes the safety of citizens and undermines confidence in the institutions of the rule of law;

(e) The faulty definition of the crime of torture in article 201-A of the Penal Code, which is not consistent with article 1 of the Convention.


5. Recommendations

165. The Committee recommends to the State party that the following actions be taken:

(a) Intensification of efforts to elucidate past grave violations and to ensure that such situations do not recur. Articles 11 and 12 of the Convention require the State to proceed ex officio to a prompt and impartial investigation of any report of torture;

(b) Completion of the process of setting up a single National Civil Police, with the disbandment or demobilization of the Financial Police;

(c) Continuation of the process of reducing the number of permits to carry firearms to the strictly essential minimum;

(d) The putting into operation as soon as possible of the Service for the Protection of Persons involved in Proceedings and Persons connected with the Administration of Justice;

(e) The allocation to the Human Rights Procurator of the necessary funds for effectively carrying out, throughout the national territory, the functions and duties assigned to and enjoined upon him under the Constitution and the law;

(f) Harmonization of article 201-A of the Penal Code with the definition of torture contained in article 1 of the Convention;

(g) The prompt submission, if possible during the coming year, of the third report, the form and content of which should comply with the previously mentioned guidelines on the presentation of reports.

166. The Committee reminds the State authorities that their representatives informed it, during its consideration of the initial report, that the process of preparing the declaration referred to in article 22 of the Convention had been initiated and that in their view no obstacles existed to completing the process.


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Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
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